Chris Shepherd describes himself as ‘your faithful filmmaker’. His kooky and unique films are about people’s lives, disappointments and glories with his latest short, The Ringer, set to debut at the 23rd instalment of Flickerfest in January.
Exploring the gap between fantasy and reality, as well as the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of a relationship between a father and son who barely know each other, The Ringer takes the viewer on a gritty yet touching, journey into the lives of two protagonists played by John Henshaw and Kieran Lynn.
Based on his own personal experience and drawing inspiration from a ’70s feature film by Jack Gold, The National Health, Shepherd says The Ringer was an attempt to explore the emotions he was feeling at the time. “I didn’t meet my father until I was 38, so, as you can imagine, it was a huge explosion on both my life and his. While the film doesn’t set out to be a statement of this fact, nor is it an exact portrayal of my father, it is an attempt to look at the emotions I was experiencing at the time,” he says.
Although Shepherd’s films, such as the award winning Dad’s Dead and Bad Night For The Blues are well-known for exploring dark and at times, confronting, themes through a combination of animation and true to life characters, there’s still an element of lightheartedness within the storylines. “I really like studying people and when you’re looking to find integrity in characters, they can end up being both funny and sad, like those in some of my favourite films, Steptoe And Son or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“One minute they’re funny and the next, tragic. That’s life. One minute you are on top of the world, the next you are in the gutter. Those are the kind of narratives I really love. Sometimes I re-create moments of my past, other times I take on stories I’ve been told. At the end of the day, I love people and that’s what my films are about,” he says.
Growing up in Liverpool, Shepherd was first inspired to start making films by a good friend, David Clapham. Realising he had found his passion, Shepherd then went on to study film, moved to London and gradually became a director. In 1995, he set up a production company called Polkadot and directed the multi-award winning film, The Broken Jaw, for Channel 4. Then, in 2000, he became the co-founder of production company, Slinky Pictures, with producer Maria Manton. After the closure of Slinky Pictures in 2010, Shepherd has since gone on to write and direct a number of successful TV series and short films, one such example being his latest effort, The Ringer, which was made in collaboration with producer Nicolas Schmerkin of Autour De Minuit and UK producer Valentina Brazzini of The Bureau.
As a man who is passionate about writing and translating his creative ideas into visual journeys, Shepherd admits he is always looking for new stories and themes to explore. “Playwright Alan Bennet once said, ‘when is a writer writing?’ Regardless of whether I am putting pen to paper or tapping on keys or doing mundane things, like going to the supermarket, I find that I’m writing all the time, even when I think I’m not,” he says.
“I’m hope the Flickerfest audience enjoy The Ringer. Although I make films that attempt to be true to a particular story, at the end of the day, it’s up to the audience as to what they think,” says Shepherd. “For me, making films is like giving birt; once your children are out in the world, it’s hard to know what they actually become or where they will go.”
BY PRUE CLARK
The Ringer screens at Bondi Pavilion for Flickerfest 2014 at 8.45pm on Wednesday January 15.